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Once Upon A Time In The Bronx: Van Cortlandt Park Has Deep Roots In History

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As NY1 wraps up its week-long look at the history of the Bronx, we dig into the storied past of Van Cortlandt Park. Borough reporter Dean Meminger filed the following report.

Van Cortlandt Park in the North Bronx is truly a scenic getaway for residents. But many don’t know about the long history of the park. The Van Cortlandt family first acquired the property shortly before the year 1700 when it was part of Westchester County. The family was one of the richest in colonial New York.

"They grew wheat and timbered, cut down trees and turned them into lumber for construction. They were also brewers," says Laura Carpenter of the Van Cortlandt House Museum.


The Van Cortlandt family's house, built in 1748, is the oldest in the borough. Now a museum, it stands on the park's southwest corner where there are reenactments of the colonial era.

"The Van Cortlandts had slaves. It was extremely common even in the north. Because of the large operation that was going on here it would have been virtually impossible to run it with out slaves," says Carpenter. "Some slaves lived in the house; they would have been the household slaves."

There were also plenty of Revolutionary War battles against British troops in the New York area. And many notables stayed in the Van Cortlandt house.

"George Washington stayed here three times," says Bronx Borough Historian Lloyd Ultan.

The Stockbridge Indians, who lived on the land and fought on the American side, were ambushed by the British in 1778.

"They were massacred," says Lloyd. "They are buried in the eastern part of Van Cortlandt park in a place called Indian field."

A monument has been placed in the park to honor the Stockbridge Indians.

The city eventually bought a large part of the Van Cortlandt estate and turned it into a public park in 1888. It is the city's fourth largest park and much bigger than Manhattan's Central Park. The park also became home to the city's first municipal golf course, which remains a popular course today.

For those who like to run, Van Cortlandt Park features one of the best cross-country trails in the nation.

"There is in the park the premier cross country racetrack in the nation. I don’t know how many people know this, but colleges from all across the country that hold track meets on that race track," says Lloyd.

The park is currently undergoing a multi-million dollar upgrade to preserve its rich history for generations to come.


A Glimpse Of The Old Bronx


View a gallery of past times in the Bronx, courtesy of the Museum of the City of New York and the Bronx Historical Society.

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